I do not own the main characters (still not sure who really owns them…
I gotta get that information someday). They belong to whoever owns
the Magnificent Seven.
Thanks: To Mog for the ATF
universe. Wyndewalker, Wnnepooh, and C. Coombs for introducing me to
This is dedicated to all the
people (and you know who you are) who begged for an answer to all of
Warnings: None that I can think
A Winter Wonderland- Part 2
The intern stared at the man
on the hospital bed, his eyes glittering with hate. He liked the bruises
marring the ATF agent’s face - turning it into a harlequin mask of blues
and purples. The dark, nearly black bruises that stretched from the
agent’s collarbone to his jaw nearly made him smile - until he remembered.
This man was going to pay. He quickly read the chart, noting a few
things with interest.
Finally finished with his perusal,
he turned to the next bed. This one held a young man - almost a boy
really. But a dangerous one at that. He noted the IV lines and the
drainage port with clinical disinterest. The bandaged hands made him
frown, he did not remember doing anything to the agent’s hands. Unsettled,
he picked up the chart and scanned down until he found the notation
- frostbite, possible nerve damage to the fingers. Oh, he liked that
note. Maybe it would slow the computer geek down, or even take him
out of the picture completely, disabling him permanently. This one
reminded him too much of his brother to kill - maim, yes, but not kill.
The intern crossed the room,
wondering vaguely if the ATF agents realized how easy they were making
things for him. All four wounded agents were in one room. All were
sleeping from their painkillers. All four had ragged their three unwounded
friends until the other agents gave up and went home for the night.
It was almost the perfect set up for him and he was definitely going
to take advantage of it.
He glanced down at the mustached
man with dislike. This one, with his two broken legs and obscenely
handsome face, was the one the nurses were whispering about so much.
He glared at him, wondering why the women seemed to like him so. It
had been the same when he infiltrated the organization. It was his
testimony, along with the fancy man’s, that was going to lock up his
father for a long time. The intern pulled a syringe from his pocket
and looked over at the IV line. It would be so easy. Did he want it
No. He didn’t want easy.
He wanted painful. He slid the syringe back into his lab coat.
Still thinking about his choices,
he moved to the final bed. This one he did not recognize. The man
was big, almost at big as he was. The man’s gray hair and rough, unshaven
face puzzled him. It was… grizzled, that was the word he wanted. He
pulled the man’s chart and wandered to the head of the bed, reading
it. Shotgun wound. He must have been the one who tried to keep the
boy from being grabbed. Close call, that was. He checked the list
of medications, thoughtful. Then he noticed the man’s name and he froze.
Sanchez. His mother’s people were Sanchez.
When the sky blue eyes opened,
the intern stared at them without any comprehension.
“Son?” The whisper was filled
with concern. “Are you all right?”
The intern stared at the man
on the bed for another moment and then smiled. “I’m just tired. Been
a long night. You’re doing very well, Mr. Sanchez. Go back to sleep.”
“My friends?” The concern
was still there as was the worry in the blue eyes.
“They are going to be fine.”
The intern found himself gently patting the big man’s shoulder. Then
he turned, replaced the chart, and left. He knew what he was going
to do. It was perfect.
The shrill ring of the phone
brought Chris Larabee to a very unhappy awakening. He was tired. It
had been a very long week and he did not need anything to be added to
his plate. Not right now, anyway.
“Larabee.” He barked into the
“Mr. Larabee, this is Denver
Memorial Hospital. One of your agents has been brought in and he insisted
we call you.” The polite, overly cheery voice grated on Chris’ nerves.
“Who?” He sat up, fully awake
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.
Don’t let him go anywhere.” Chris’ growl was automatic as he surged
to his feet. Ignoring the other man’s words, he dropped the phone onto
its cradle and began dressing. What on earth had the southerner been
doing that put him in the hospital?
The plan was working wonderfully.
Larabee was en route to the hospital on the other side of town. The
medic was about to die a nice, slow, painless death. Standish was out
of the picture - for a long time. Now all he had to do was take care
of the four in this hospital.
Chris stared at the doctor,
trying to make sense of the words. “Repeat that please?”
“Your agent was attacked in
his home and the attacker dialed 911 before leaving.” The doctor, his
hospital scrubs liberally streaked with blood, was trying to explain
without upsetting the ATF agent. He knew from long experience that
Larabee was dangerous when his people were involved. “The man who did
this was very intent on causing the most damage without killing Mr.
Standish. All of the damage is painful, most can probably be repaired
by a competent plastic surgeon - but there will be some scars that cannot
be erased by this attack.”
“What happened to Ezra?” The
judiciously cautious tone of the doctor’s voice was setting off alarms
in Chris’ brain. “What kind of damage are you talking about?”
“Someone took their time playing
with Mr. Standish. Someone who wanted to ruin his appearance as painfully
as possible, and they did a good job of it. The worst of it is the
facial damage - his jaw and cheekbone are both broken in several places.
The orbital rim is intact, so his eyesight should not become impaired.
There are two stab wounds, but with aggressive antibiotic treatment
we should be able to stave off peritonitis. Everything else - well,
the other wounds entail a lot of stitches and a lot of blood loss, but
they should heal fairly well.” The doctor grimaced as he thought of
something the agent would need to know. “Do you know anyone who would
want to carve the word ‘Traitor’ in his chest?”
Chris paled. He could think
of too many people who would like to face Ezra and pay him back for
his undercover work. The damage sounded like a vicious attack, the
kind that only someone with a serious hatred could cause. But then
why call for help? Why make sure that Ezra was kept from dying?
“Where is he now?”
“We called in a surgeon to
fix the jaw and the cheekbone. Mr. Standish will be in surgery for
the next five, maybe six hours.” The doctor looked down at his scrubs.
“I can have a nurse give you directions to the waiting room.”
“I know where it is.” Chris
nodded to the man and spun around. He stepped out of the hospital,
pulling his cell phone as he did. There was only one reason he could
think of for the assailant to call 911 and make sure Ezra survived.
He needed a distraction. When Nathan didn’t answer, Chris cursed furiously.
He dialed another number.
“Murphy?” Chris knew his voice
was strained. “Someone’s targeting my team, Standish was attacked at
his home and Jackson isn’t answering.”
The other ATF agent went alert
immediately. “I’m on my way. I’ll get someone out to keep an eye on
the four in the hospital. Where are you?”
“Denver Memorial. Ezra’s in
surgery.” Larabee knew he didn’t have to say anything else. It was
a given fact that he was not about to leave one of his men while the
man was in surgery.
“One of my people will be there
in a few minutes. Waiting room on three?”
“I’ll be there.” He hung up
and turned, reentering the hospital. He had a very bad feeling about
The intern grinned to himself
as he loaded the gurney into the van. He was careful as he attached
the IV to the hanger hook. He didn’t want anything to happen to Mr.
Sanchez. The man had been so concerned, so worried. He had to make
sure his kinsman was not hurt by his plans. As he started engine and
drove out of the staff parking lot, he noticed a group of unmarked cars,
police lights flashing on their dashboards race into the main hospital
lot. They were too late.
The world was a blur when he
opened his eyes. He frowned. He despised the oddly out of touch feeling
drugs gave him and his doctors knew it. They rarely gave him enough
to cause this kind of vertigo. He’d have to talk to the nurse when
she came in to check on him.
Josiah looked around uncomprehending.
He vaguely recognized the intern from earlier, but something about the
man made him uneasy. The cold hand that patted his shoulder gave him
the creeps but he was too drugged to care. He closed his eyes knowing
that his friends would protect him if there were any danger.
Chris watched every move the
nurses made like a hawk. Two sets of nurses, one from Denver Memorial,
the other from Four Corners, were carefully shifting the unconscious
man from the ambulance’s gurney onto a more permanent hospital bed.
Standish’s doctors oversaw the procedure, noting every change in the
many monitors connected to him. Experts from several areas waited for
their turn to assist.
“Ready, doctor.” The head
nurse spoke calmly, seemingly unphazed by the circumstances or the situation.
None of the doctors were happy
about moving the undercover agent from one hospital to another. Only
a stern directive from their superiors and the threat of armed men roaming
the hospital ward had quieted them. The move was dangerous - Standish
had not done well in surgery, fighting the anesthesia and coming awake
on the table. Drugged though he was, the wily agent had nearly killed
himself fighting the doctors. Since then, they had kept him in a medically
induced coma, giving him a chance to heal before he tried to escape
again. The mass of monitors and the multiple IV lines hinted at the
severity of Standish’s condition.
But the ATF Team Leader was too afraid of another attempt on his agent to leave him at the larger hospital. There were too many entrances, too many access routes, too many new faces, and too much traffic for an effective security detail. Four Corners, though not much smaller, was far more defensible. In fact, the staff at the hospital was so familiar with Team Seven that they had a special training class for newcomers. And it was an unspoken, unwritten policy that all new doctors and nurses had to be introduced by someone the team knew well before being assigned to a wounded agent.
Two doctors stepped close to their patient and began adjusting their equipment. Grimly attentive to detail, they checked and rechecked the patient before removing the specialized vents that allowed the numbing drugs to flow freely into the patient. They spoke softly to each other and nodded, satisfied with their readouts.
“He’s all yours,” one doctor
stated, stepping back.
The other only shot Chris and
his companion a glare before stalking out of the room. The doctors
from Four Corners exchanged a rueful smile. They were used to Larabee’s
ways and made allowances. No one from Four Corners argued with Larabee
when his men were involved, they simply advised him of the best treatment
and did their work. If Team Seven’s leader had any concerns, they listened
and worked that into their treatment. The nurses had their own way
of handling Larabee and usually that kept him quiet, out of the way,
and relatively under control - the doctors didn’t ask, they just watched.
“Mr. Larabee?” The head nurse
was at Chris’ side, one hand gently resting on his arm. “Mr. Standish
is in good hands. The doctors will be with him for a few more minutes.
Why don’t we go down and see JD? You know he’ll be worrying.”
Silently, with one last pale-eyed
glance around the room, Chris meekly followed her. Behind him, the
doctors relaxed slightly and went about their work. They could easily
ignore the FBI and ATF guards in and around the floor. After being
under Larabee’s eye, they figured they could handle just about anything.
“How is he?” JD was the only
one awake. The young man’s face was pale, his bruises fading bruises
still standing out against the fair skin.
“Stable.” Chris settled into
a chair beside the bed.
The room was quiet without
the others. Buck was upstairs in the bed next to Ezra, fighting for
his life as his weakened body fought off the anaphylactic shock. Only
Chris’ call to Murphy had saved Buck’s life. The other team leader
had called the hospital and warned of a possible threat to the ATF team
members. The night nurse and the security officer had arrived just
as Buck’s monitors began stridently shouting their alarms. The nurse,
forewarned to foul play, had quickly ripped the IV line loose as she
stabbed the call button and yelled for assistance. The timing had saved
him - barely. But due to the stress his body had undergone, they upgraded
his condition from good to serious and moved him up one floor to CCU.
Vin was up there too. Chris
didn’t want to dwell on that thought. Instead he marveled that either
of them survived. Their assailant had chosen well, adding medications
to the IV’s that would cause death in a quick, painful manner - Buck
from a penicillin allergy and Vin from poison. The security guard had
responded to the nurse’s shouted instructions, removing the IV’s from
both Vin and JD. Vin had received only a small amount of the poison
- enough to cause problems and need 24 care. JD’s IV had been clean,
but lying on the surgical tray next to him was an eerie note that read,
“The debt is paid a life for a life.”
“Nathan?” JD stirred restlessly
in the bed.
Chris grinned. “Nathan is
fine. A lump on his head and a lungful of gas won’t keep him down long.
The nurse said he’d be moved over here in another hour or so.”
“Have they found Josiah?”
Chris shut his eyes. He still
had not reconciled himself to Josiah’s disappearance. The big man had
disappeared without a trace. His medical record, the medical equipment
hooked up to him, enough bandages and medicines to finish treating him,
and an ambulance had all vanished without a trace. Whoever had tried
to kill Vin and Buck had taken Josiah with him. In the twelve hours
since then, the Denver PD, the FBI, the ATF, and the Colorado State
patrol had all searched without any result.
“We’ll find him, JD.” Chris
whispered, wondering if he was trying to reassure the boy or himself.
This time the wood walls and
ceiling made an impression. So did the pain. Josiah let his head fall
to the side, scanning the room. This was no hospital and his friends
were nowhere to be found. He let his eyes trace the IV line from his
arm to the silver stand next to him. It was tagged with the Four Corners
Hospital logo, but that didn’t make sense. He closed his eyes again
as an unfamiliar hand added something to his IV.
“JD, be still.” Nathan growled
from his bed. The medic was unhappy about being a patient. Being a
patient while the majority of his teammates were in the IC-CCU unit
made him even unhappier. JD’s constant movements as he tried to get
comfortable were only getting on his already irritated nerves. “I’m
serious. If you keep moving and rubbing those bandages against your
hands and feet, you’re going to do more damage to them.”
“Sorry, Nate.” The younger
agent looked sheepish as he tried to still his restless movements.
“That shows that you’re healing.”
The older man fought off a grimace as JD stirred again. IF only he
had seen the man who had attacked him - then they would have a clue
as to who was targeting the team.
“Don’t mean I have to like
itching.” JD grumbled, a mulish look on his face. Suddenly he brightened.
“Nathan, how about we go and take a peek at Buck and Vin and Ezra?
You could push me in a wheelchair and that would keep you from getting
dizzy and fallin’ -“
“No, JD.” Nathan wished he
could go along with the kid’s plan. But if he let JD get away with
it once, he would never be able to keep him in bed when he was injured.
And that only went double for Vin and Ezra - those two were hard enough
to keep down as it was. If they thought Nathan had allowed JD to get
out of his sick bed there would be pure hell to pay. Regretfully, Nathan
let the tiny ember of hope die. “We stay here.”
JD frowned, his lower lip poking
out and his eyes growing wide as he stared at the big medic.
“Nate, are you forcing JD to
stay put?” Chris Larabee’s voice made both of them look up, startled
by his arrival. The grim visage and the two armed guards taking positions
just inside the door made them stiffen.
“Who?” Nathan forced his voice
to stay calm.
“It’s not what you think.
We’ve got a lead.” The pale face of their leader relaxed slightly.
“JD, I need to know everything you remember about what happened last
week. Everything from the moment we arrested Hodges until we got you
in the hospital.”
JD opened his mouth and then
closed it. He knew Chris would only be asking if it was important.
He nodded and thought back.
Vin and JD sped down the stairs,
happily racing toward Vin’s Jeep. Neither of them wanted to take the
chance that their boss would change his mind. The two of them were
restless and full of unbridled energy. They had been stuck on surveillance
for the entire month of December - torture for the two young men. But
their inability to sit still had finally driven their leader to toss
them out of the office. They were free, not only that but today was
Friday, they were facing a three-day holiday weekend, there was fresh
snow up at Chris’ ranch, and they had new snow boards which they had
yet to break in. Neither noticed the unmarked van idling near the loading
“Brothers.” Josiah Sanchez,
one of their teammates, called to them from his dilapidated Suburban.
The ancient, beat-up vehicle was the only thing that could hold the
entire team and their equipment, but sometimes (a lot of times, actually)
they wished he could be talked into getting a newer one. “Chris finally
kick you out?”
Vin nodded with a sly grin.
“Couldn’t stand us any longer. Said we were worse than a pair of four-year-olds.”
Josiah started to say something,
but his words were cut off by the blast of a shotgun. His hands went
to his stomach as he fell, eyes wide with shock.
Vin broke into a sprint, drawing
his pistol and yelling for JD to take cover. A man jumped from the
van, clamming a crowbar into the sniper’s head. As Vin fell, the big
orange tabby that lived in the parking garage leaped onto the attacker’s
back. Cuervo was grabbed by the scruff of his neck and thrown against
Chris’ black truck. The vehicle’s alarm began stridently blaring.
JD saw all of this happen in
disbelief. Before Josiah hit the concrete, the computer expert was
diving for cover, his weapon targeting the man swinging the crowbar.
Barely seconds after the masked man slammed it into Vin’s head, he was
down, a single shot tearing through his skull. Swallowing and forcing
himself to keep his lunch in place, he turned his attention back to
A hand holding a shotgun, slid
out the open side door. JD waited until the man’s torso appeared and
tightened his finger on the trigger. He had to finish this. He had
to get to Josiah and Vin. He calmed his mind - just like Vin had taught
him, divorcing his thoughts from the shot. Red blossomed in the center
of the target’s white shirt and the shotgun fell from the man’s grip.
It fired as the stock hit the concrete, the heavy gauge shot taking
out the door and side windows of Josiah’s Suburban.
A heavy sounding ka-chunk made
JD freeze. He peered over his shoulder. The double bore muzzle of
another shotgun stared at him. The man holding it was wearing a ski
mask, only his eyes and mouth visible. The mouth was smiling.
“Drop it, boy.”
He released his grip on his
weapon, placing it on the cold concrete. At the slight motion of the
gun barrel, he slid it away. At this distance, especially since he
was not wearing body armor, the shotgun would cut him in half and he
knew it. A brutal kick to his stomach sent him face first into the
concrete. Immediately a hand grabbed his wrist, pulling it high into
his back. A moment later, both of his hands were painfully locked together
“Don’t let him see you face!”
A voice called from the van.
How many were there? JD wondered.
He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. The voice was much closer
when it spoke again. “Is he alive? D*** brat - he took out two good
men. Didn’t think this one was dangerous.”
JD tried to hide his satisfied
grin. He hated being discounted when people thought of the team, but
sometimes it came in handy. He heard another curse and the footsteps
came closer. He looked back over his shoulder just in time to see the
approaching shotgun butt. His head rebounded off the concrete into
a welcome blackness.
“Come on, wake up, kid.” The
familiar litany finally broke through JD’s pain filled slumber. Something
jostled him, making his head pound even harder. “Hsst. JD!” Wake up!”
“Go away, Buck.” JD growled
and tried to burrow under his covers. He did not feel like getting
up, maybe he should call out sick. No that would only bring Nathan
and the others and the way he felt he did not want the company. He
tried to move his arms and get comfortable, but that caused pain as
his arms refused to move. His eyes flew open and he stared in shock.
“I ain’t Buck, kid.” Vin’s
familiar Texas drawl made him remember the parking garage.
“You’re alive?” JD could not
hide the relief in his voice. He was sitting in an old metal folding
chair, his hands cuffed to a pole behind him. He looked around the room.
Old, red-brown bricks and thick, warped glass told him they were in
an old building. He tugged on the pole he was cuffed to but it was
solid. “Where are we?”
“Don’t rightly know.” Vin’s
response was laconic. From the sound of it, JD guessed he was handcuffed
to another chair behind him. “How ya doing? You were out for a long
“Been worse.” JD was not about
to let his friend know how bad he felt. From the distinct blurriness
of the room, he guessed he had a mild concussion. Not much nausea and
the room did not swim when he turned his head, so it had to be a mild
one instead of a serious one.
“At least you didn’t say ‘fine’.” JD felt Vin’s fingers move against his handcuffs. “Don’t move, kid. This is hard enough as it is.”
“What are you doing?” He hissed
in surprise a piece of sharp metal jabbed into his wrist.
“Sorry. Ez taught me to pick
these things.” The Texan growled, struggling with the cuffs. “But
it’s a lot harder to do when you’re cuffed to a pole an’ can’t see what
JD was silent for a moment,
letting Vin struggle with the unruly metal wires. The huge room was
pretty empty. A metal table and an open lock box were nearby. JD could
see the sleeve of Vin’s favorite leather jacket peeking out of the box.
His motorcycle helmet was resting next to it. He frowned. That should
be at the apartment. He wasn’t crazy enough to ride his bike to work
with all the snow and slush on the roads.
“Looky! They’re awake.” A
voice called from above. A man stood in the doorway at the top of industrial
metal stairs. He was huge, filling the entire entrance, shoulders brushing
both sides of the metal frame. His voice was overly loud, echoing in
the room. He moved down the stairs, his feet as silent as a cat’s.
As he approached, JD went cold. He had seen men with eyes like the
behemoth’s before - but those men had all been behind bars. These eyes
belonged to a free man and that scared him. “I have been waiting so
patiently for them to wake up.”
“Joe?” Another man followed
him into the room. He seemed unhappy, his voice sharp. “No games.
Just take the pictures so we can go.” He stopped in front of JD, his
eyes going wide with shock. “Who is this? Pop wanted you to grab Standish
and Wilmington. This kid isn’t old enough to be an ATF agent.”
“Pop don’t know anything.”
Joe replied, his hands stroking JD’s hair. He dragged JD’s head back
and stared at him, his eyes glittering madly. “These two are young
and pretty. And I’ve been watching - watching real close. Larabee’ll
do anything for the longhaired one. Standish will do the same for the
boy. Wilmington will too.”
“Damnit, Joseph! We can’t do
this.” The other man took a step forward only to back off as Joseph
began stroking JD’s throat with a knife. “Let him go. We can take the
pictures of the two of them and do what Pop said.”
“We’ll take the pictures when
I’m good and ready, Bradley.” The madman released JD and moved to Vin.
“And if Larabee and the others don’t let Pop go, I get to play with
their friends. Won’t that be fun, Tanner?”
JD heard a sound, but he could
not place it. He felt Vin’s arms jerk against him and he dimly heard
the lock pick hit the ground. But the big man’s body kept him from seeing
“You’re killing him. Larabee
won’t play if you kill him.” Bradley’s voice was almost calm. Only
the panicked look, barely visible through the ski mask let JD know the
smaller man was just as frightened as his captive.
“I would never kill him this
early.” Joseph stood, smiling over the two captives. He contemplated
the scene for a moment. Then, moving with startling speed for a man
his size, he grabbed JD’s shoulder and pulled. Once JD was leaning
against Vin’s shoulder he nodded to himself and stepped back. “There,
the perfect shot. Both of Larabee’s men in one picture - all the better
to make him worry. And if he doesn’t believe me, well then you are
“Let’s get this done, bro.”
Bradley turned his attention to the camcorder.
Joseph turned a harsh look
on his brother and nodded. He unfolded a newspaper and placed it on
JD’s lap. “Final edition, JD. Hold it steady, we wouldn’t want you
to mess up the shot.”
JD refused to play to the man’s
words. He looked down at the newspaper, half surprised to see that it
was not the normal Denver paper. Instead it was a local edition of
the Denver Journal. He kept his smile to himself. He knew how meticulously
his friends would be going over the videotape. Ezra would notice -
the conman rarely missed the little details.
“Mr. Larabee,” Joseph’s voice
was pitched low, almost to a soothing tone. His words were suddenly
erudite and reminded JD of Ezra when he was out to confound and confuse.
“Your associates are thriving at this moment. Should you desire this
situation to remain the norm, you will obey the instructions contained
herein. Should you, through some invariably important but necessary
form of legal negotiation, conclude that your colleagues are unredeemable,
I will be ecstatic to store them.” There was a brief pause as Joseph
turned his attention to the camera. “In brine.”
JD fought to stay still as
the hunting knife caressed his throat. Beside him, he could feel Vin’s
shoulders tremble as the knife slid up and down, not quite hard enough
to break the skin. Then it was gone, and from the corner of his eye,
JD saw that it now rested against Vin.
“They are extremely handsome
young men, Mr. Larabee. They have the kind of attractiveness is more
than skin deep. If Hodges is not released by four p.m., that beauty
will be gone. I’ll send it to you wrapped around their hearts.” The
fancy words were gone as Joseph leaned close, one hand wrapping around
Vin’s throat while the other held the knife to JD’s. “Think it over,
Abruptly, their captor pulled
away. With a frown, he signaled his brother to stop recording. Joseph’s
voice was puzzled, “I cut you.”
“That happens when you play
with knives.” Vin drawled. His reward was a heavy handed slap that
made him gasp in pain.
“Brad, get my kit. We can’t
have the boy bleeding so early in the game.” The big man placed light
but firm pressure against the wound. “It just wouldn’t do for you to
hurt this early.”
JD was quiet as the man carefully
applied a bandage to the long, thin slice on his throat. Being that
close to their captor made him nervous. Having the man’s hands on him
scared him nearly senseless. Finally, after what seemed to be hours,
the man stood. Giving JD a crooked grin, he went to his brother’s side.
“Did you tape all of it?”
“Yes.” Bradley pulled the
videotape out and handed it to his brother. “I even taped the fear in
the kid’s eyes as you worked on him.”
“I said I wouldn’t hurt him…
yet.” Joe pulled off his mask and stretched. He turned to face the
two captives and smiled. “Not for a long time. I wouldn’t want to
ruin the game.”
“Come on. Let’s deliver this
thing.” Brad tugged on his brother’s arm. Reluctantly, the big man
turned and followed his smaller brother out the door.
“You okay, JD?” Vin’s voice
was hoarse form the choking he had received.
“I’m alive. Guy gives me the
creeps.” Vin’s arms began moving as he tried to force the lock barehanded.
“We gotta get out of here.”
JD didn’t argue. Instead he
let his eyes roam along the floor, searching for the piece of wire.
After a long moment, he found it. “I found the pick. It’s too far
for me to reach.”
“Are you two ready to eat?”
A voice called from the top of the stairs. The big man carried a tray
as he descended to the basement floor. He set the tray on the table
and smiled at them. “I think we’ll have fun, boys. You want to eat,
you gotta behave. You want to starve - that’s fine too.”
JD let his words trail off.
He looked up at Chris, and seeing his boss’ fury he flinched. He bowed
his head, closing his eyes as he thought about the long evening spent
in the hands of his kidnapper. The only reason they had lived was the
man’s insistence that it was too early in the game for them to die.
“JD? Son?” Chris’s soft voice
broke through the memories. The quiet ATF leader had moved closer and
was propped on the edge of JD’s bed. His eyes were sympathetic as he
stared down at the young man. “What happened next?”
JD shrugged. “Joseph played
with us. Beat us a little. Threatened us a lot. Then his brother got
back. Brad brought some other men with him. They yelled at Joseph.
One of the other men called Joseph crazy.” JD frowned. “It made him
lose his temper and he… he killed him with one punch, Chris. Then he
told Brad to take care of us and left.”
Chris nodded thoughtfully.
“So they were already fighting before we got there?”
“Mr. Larabee.” A doctor interrupted
them. “I need to check on Agents Dunne and Jackson. Would you mind
Chris was reluctant to listen
to the doctor.
“Go on, Chris. JD is going
to need some painkillers for the rest of the story.” Nathan’s whispered
words made him shoot a worried look at the young man. JD was pale, his
eyes wide, his breathing quick and nervous. Reluctantly, Chris left
“Where am I?” Josiah asked
the man carefully tending the wound on his stomach. He recognized him
from the hospital.
“You’re safe, cousin.” The
soft voice and gentle hands made him shiver. Something seemed a little
“What’s going on? Where are
“They died.” Big brown eyes
glanced up at him as the big hands spread an antibiotic ointment over
the stitches. Then a bandage was carefully laid over the wound. “All
“They died?” Josiah tried
to move, but the leather and Velcro straps held him firm.
“Shh. Uncle Josiah.” The other
man smiled, his grin crooked. “They died days ago. You’re going to
be safe here. We’ll both be safe here.”
“Uncle?” Josiah stared into
the brown eyes and saw the flickering madness there. He knew he was
in deep trouble.
“You are a Sanchez. My mother
was a Sanchez.” An statement of pure delight spread across the younger
man’s face. “That makes you my uncle. Pop always told us she didn’t
have any relatives. He lied. Now I have you.”
“That’s right, son.” Josiah
decided it was the better part of valor to agree with his captor. “When
can I get up?”
“Not for a while yet, uncle.”
The man stood. “Your stitches have barely begun healing. You have a
lot of recovering to do before we can stress them. At least five more
days before I can let you sit up. Then we have to slowly recondition
your muscles - there was a lot of damage from the shotgun pellets.
At least a month before you can walk.”
Josiah did not let his feelings
reach his face. He had to get out of here sooner than that. He smiled
at his captor. “Got any good books to read?”
“If I release your arms, you
will try to get out of bed, uncle.” The brown eyes were laughing at
him. “I read your file. You never listen to the doctors. I’ll put on
Josiah nodded in defeat. Maybe
it wouldn’t be today, but he would escape.
“What happened after that?”
Chris kept his voice low, trying not to disturb the young man staring
so thoughtfully out the window. JD had ignored them since the doctor
had left and it was making the ATF team leader nervous.
“Not much.” JD turned an unseeing
face towards his friends. The blank statement and the furious eyes
startled both men. “Not much beyond what you can expect from scum like
“JD?” Nathan’s voice cracked
when the young man shot him a glare.
Chris frowned. He would drop
the whole thing if he could. Unfortunately, the only chance Josiah had
was if JD told them everything. Somehow he knew everything was interrelated.
And JD held the key.
“I know it’s hard, but we need
to know.” Chris coaxed, trying to soften his tone. He was not made
for this kind of thing. He could beat or threaten information out of
anyone. Ezra was the one who could coax. But the uncover agent was
upstairs in a medically induced coma and could not come to his friend’s
assistance. Nathan was great for rescues and fixing injuries - not
for getting others to talk. His blunt words had a tendency to make people
clam right up.
JD nodded, his face still a
mask as he resumed his recitation. “You know, Joseph Hodges was crazy,
The medic shot a look at his
leader, suddenly understanding what was coming.
It was hours later when the
big man returned with another tray. He quickly dismissed the guards
his brother had left watching the two ATF agents. He set the table,
even including a pair of candlesticks. Once he had the table set, he
lit the candles and sat down to his dinner.
“If you want to eat, you obey
me. If you want to drink, you obey me. If you want to breathe, you obey
me.” Joseph grinned from his seat at the table. He was eating from a
plate at the table. The heavy silverware and the fine glass winked as
he moved it. The scent of the food was enough to make JD’s mouth water.
Beside him he heard Vin’s stomach growl hungrily. “Do you understand?”
Neither captive responded.
Joseph shrugged and returned
to his dinner. He ate with a flare that reminded JD so much of Ezra
that he expected to see or hear the undercover operator at anytime.
After he ate, Joseph picked up a sealed bottle of water and approached
As soon as he was within range,
Vin kicked at him. Their captor grinned and retaliated with a punch
to Vin’s stomach. The sniper yelled and collapsed into a ball, pulling
his legs up to his chest. JD could feel the frantic tugs as Vin instinctively
tried to bring his hands up to protect the wounded area.
“Don’t do that again, boy.”
Joseph smiled as he crouched close to Vin’s side. He dragged the longhaired
man’s head up and whispered into Vin’s ear. JD could not hear what was
being said, but he watched as Vin went pale.
“Go to h***!” Vin whispered,
his voice cracking with his pain. Joseph smiled again.
“I could always play with Dunne.”
The wicked smile made JD wince, especially when the big hunting knife
appeared at his throat again. “But first, I better make sure you’re
not tempted again.”
The big man walked away and
began searching the shelves against the far wall. Finally he found what
he was looking for, rope. With easy, efficient moves, he tied the long
legged man’s feet to his chair. Then he turned to JD.
“Are you going to cooperate?
Or do I need to tie you up too?” Joseph grinned. He leaned close,
and whispered into JD’s ear.
Fury and rage shrouded JD’s
thoughts. He reacted instantly to the words, slamming his head into
the big man’s face. As he staggered backwards, JD kicked out, catching
his captor in the knee. Putting all his weight and his anger behind
his the heavy tread of his motorcycle boots, JD slammed a second kick
into the big man - this time hitting dead center. The man fell to the
ground, writhing in pain as he vomited onto the concrete.
“Good going, kid.” Vin managed
to murmur over his gasps for air.
Before JD could reply a roar
cut him off. Joseph was standing, his fury plain on his face. He strode
over to JD and plunged the knife into his side. Then he turned his
attention to Vin. Two massive hands wrapped around the tracker’s neck.
JD could hear Vin struggling to breathe but he could not move with the
hunting knife in his side. As it was, it felt as if a hot poker was
stabbing through him.
“Joseph!” The sudden sound
of men fighting made JD open eyes he had not realized he had closed.
Four men were holding the big
man down. The only reason Joseph stopped fighting them was the shotgun
pointing at his middle. Bradley appeared at JD’s side. He studied the
knife for a moment and then yanked it out and slapped a bandage onto
“Doesn’t look like he was aiming
for anything vital.” Apologetic brown eyes met JD’s and Brad shrugged.
He over to Vin and nodded to himself. “This kind of stuff is what got
us kicked out of med school. He wanted to know how much a body could
handle before dying. I patched up the survivors. As long as you don’t
rile him, he won’t kill you.”
JD felt horrified as he realized
that Brad was used to handling his brother’s rages and the results of
them. “But, why isn’t he…”
“Because he’s family, Mr. Agent.”
Brad stepped back. “I would remember that. I will do everything I can
to protect you as long as you are useful in regaining our father. If
you aren’t,” the young man shrugged, “then you belong to Joseph. I never
interfere in his games.”
JD glanced at Vin and saw the
same dull acknowledgement in his friend’s face. They were going to die.
No matter what Larabee wanted, there was no way the D.A. or Judge Travis
was going to release Hodges.
It had taken nearly ten years
just to get a name on the elusive gunrunner. Seventeen undercover agents
had failed to get into the organization in the five years since the
name had come to light. Five more had been returned to the agency, bound
and gagged after getting inside. Ezra had gone undercover and vanished
for six weeks.
No one, not Chris, not Vin,
not even Nathan had expected him to survive that long without any backup.
Only the weekly Ace of Spade e-cards to JD’s email account had given
them hope he was alive. Then Maude had appeared with a message from
Ezra - he needed a bodyguard, fast. Buck had gone with her, disappearing
into the French underworld. They had reappeared in Denver, along with
Hodges only a few weeks ago.
A bit of slight of hand and
JD had found a DVR disk in his coat pocket. Every scrap of Ezra’s knowledge
about the Hodges’ family was on that compressed disk. The sheer scope
of Hodges’ network had shaken the ATF agency to its core. The notes
indicated political figures, police officers, FBI and ATF agents, military
officers, and more all on the payroll. But none of it tied Hodges himself
to the network. He worked through underlings and corporate shells.
The raid had been perfect.
Over one hundred arrested, carefully coordinated so the members of Hodges’
organization never knew it was coming. Seventeen major caches of arms
discovered, accounting for more money than JD could easily imagine.
There was only one flaw. Every single underling who had direct ties
to Hodges fought to the death. They trusted their boss implicitly. He
had promised to kill anyone who betrayed him, along with his or her
families. Anyone who died for his organization, died knowing the boss
would personally care for the families left behind.
Only Ezra and Buck were left
as witnesses to the fact that Hodges was the mastermind. They were placed
in special cells in the jail - the ATF hoping Hodges believed their
arrests were real. There was no way Chris could bargain to get Hodges
Brad shook his head at the
statement on JD’s face. He reached out and gently touched the young
man’s face. “You don’t think they’ll do it? Then I would be scared boy.”
“Take Joe upstairs.” Brad
turned his attention to his brother and the men holding him. “Go on.”
The men dragged the big man
onto his feet and escorted him up the stairs. Joseph growled at them,
struggling as he was forced out of the room.
Bradley walked around the two
men cuffed to the chairs. He stooped and picked up the lock pick. He
twirled it around his fingers curiously, his eyes still on the captives.
Finally he nodded to himself and went behind the bound men. JD heard
Vin grunt in surprise. Then Brad was talking, low and fast.
“The two guards will be back
down in about five minutes. That’s the longest I can delay them.” The
words were so fast, they almost slurred together. “There’s a train
through the yard at 2 a.m., that gives you fifteen - twenty minutes.
Grab it and ride to the next stop. Joseph will do anything to keep you
from reaching your people. Don’t make me have to interfere again.”
JD didn’t say anything, too
shocked by the words to ask any questions. Brad was up stairs and out
the door before he could regain his voice. He felt Vin’s hands moving,
the lock pick working the handcuffs. It took several minutes but they
were free when the guards came to check on them. It only took a few
moments for them to subdue their guards and handcuff them to the chairs.
JD headed for the stairs as the door opened. Joseph raced inside, a pistol in his hand.
“Get them out to the truck.
Larabee found us!” He boomed, pausing as he recognized JD. The pistol
came up, only to be knocked aside by Bradley. Betrayal and suspicion
flared as Joseph looked from Bradley to JD and then with a sweep of
his hand, the big man knocked his brother down the stairs.
“Vin!” JD yelled as he dove
for the falling man. Behind him, he heard the familiar sound of a Sig-Sauer
firing. Vin had found his weapon. Somehow, miraculously, JD caught Bradley,
both of them tumbling to the ground.
Then Vin was there pulling
both men to their feet as he fired one-handed at the door. His voice
was painful sounding from the abuse his larynx had taken. “Is there
any other way out?”
“Behind the shelves, back exit
to the train yard.” Bradley gasped. JD slung the man’s arm over his
shoulder when he saw the young man had managed to break his ankle on
They were at the hidden exit
when Vin pulled up sharply. Behind them, came the clear, angry sound
of Larabee’s voice. Buck and Ezra were also there, calling for them.
Then came the roaring, rumbling sound of C-4 detonating. Red and orange
flames flew at them, the shockwave thrusting the three men through the
metal door and into the snow covered train yard.
“CHRIS!” Vin’s voice broke
as he screamed. JD grabbed his arm, preventing the tracker from going
into the flames. They watched in horror as the back wall crashed down
into the warehouse.
Bradley’s voice was weak and
his breath hitched, but his grip on their arms was hard. Both men looked
down, surprised to see a large chuck of metal sticking out through the
man’s chest. “Joseph would only blow it if he was out. He will… be
here… soon. Go.”
They looked at each other;
still dazed from the explosion and the knowledge their friends had just
died, trying to save them. Neither man was thinking straight, they
both knew it, but they did not know what to do. The sight of a moving
train was enough to galvanize them into moving. They reached for Bradley,
but the young man’s eyes had closed and he was no longer breathing.
Neither said a word as they ran for the train.
“We left you behind, Chris.”
JD murmured quietly, tears streaking his face as he recounted the events.
“JD, you said the wall collapsed
right after the explosion?” Chris was frowning thoughtfully.
“Yeah.” JD’s eyes squinted
at his friend, trying to understand what Chris was getting at.
“So you were out for at least
half an hour.”
“Huh?” JD looked at Nathan
who was nodding in agreement.
“Vin probably woke him when
he yelled.” Nathan commented. “According to their charts both had pretty
nasty concussions - and if JD had one to start out with. It makes sense.”
“Yep. I wondered why they didn’t
go straight to the Federal Building once they got out of the warehouse.”
“The last thing Bradley Hodges
told them was to get away and not go near the usual places. But since
they didn’t know Joseph died, they didn’t know it was safe.” Nathan
finished the explanation.
“But he’s not dead.” JD whispered.
Both of his teammates looked at him startled. “He was on the train too.”
“He nearly finished strangling
Vin. I barely managed to knock him out of the car. I saw him standing
up as we went around the bend.” JD watched them, perplexed by their
“Then who did the M.E. identify
as Joseph Hodges?” Nathan asked as Chris ran out of the room, pulling
out his cell phone and dialing on the run.
The boy was arguing with someone
over the phone. Josiah didn’t know who it was, he only knew the man
was seriously agitating the intern. He was pacing and growling at the
phone, ignoring his captive patient. And Josiah needed help.
Josiah stared at the dots covering
his hand. They itched and burned. He tried to move but the Velcro
straps held him still. His vision swam and he managed to croak, “Son?
I need your help.”
He heard the young man approach
and curse. Suddenly, he felt the Velcro ripped away. A moment later,
the IV was pulled roughly from his arm. Josiah moaned in pain at the
move. He tried to breathe but could not get any air into his lungs.
The curses were steady as the young man stabbed a needle into Josiah’s
chest. He could see panic in the young face as it faded into blackness.
“Breathe!” He could hear the intern’s voice yelling against the roar in his ears. “Don’t you do this to me, uncle Josiah! I won’t let you!”
The darkness claimed him just
as he heard Chris’ voice. Josiah tried to smile. It figured, he thought.
If all of his friends passed on before him, they would wait for him
on the other side.
“How is he?” Ezra spoke from
a wheelchair, his face and torso swathed in bandages.
“Sleeping. Which is what you
should be doing.” Nathan grumbled quietly from Josiah’s bedside.
The undercover agent ignored
the comment. “No one would tell me anything.”
A second wheelchair forced
its way into the room. “They sleeping again?”
Ezra nodded, his movement slow
The door opened again and this
time Chris wheeled JD into the room.
The ATF team was together.
Battered, definitely. Two men, Josiah and Buck, sleeping in hospital
beds. Three men, Ezra, Vin, and JD sitting uncomfortably in wheelchairs.
Even the two healthy ones, Nathan and Chris, looked bad with bandages
showing the heavy toll they had paid. But they had survived another
new year - barely.
“How long until the next set
of rounds?” JD asked, glancing at his friends.
“Twenty-two minutes.” The southern
“Will they wake up in time?”
Vin asked softly.
“Yes.” Josiah replied, his
voice raw. He opened his eyes and smiled at his friends. “I take we’re
Buck groaned in reply. “I’m
not so sure about that.”
Chris grinned. “I think we
need a vacation.”
“Oh, no.” Ezra replied immediately.
“I remembah what happened that last time we took a vacation. I will
remain in my condo for the duration.”
“I’m staying in Purgatory.”
Vin backed his wheelchair away from his leader.
“I think I agree with them.”
Nathan looked at the man in black, shaking his head. “I’m going home
and staying there. Rain will come by and keep me company.”
Chris began chuckling as his friends responded to his words. It was good to have them all back.